From sitting in the first public screening of what should have been a forgetful and frivolous romantic comedy on a frigid night in Park City (see #8) to being flabbergasted by the inventiveness of a would-be sci-fi auteur (whose name I couldn’t spell or pronounce at the time, see #7) for 112 riveting minutes. Franchises were reborn. Genres were injected with new life. Stephen Sommers made a watchable film called “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra.” Young filmmakers came of age. And one mad genius with the heart of a pussycat and 300 million at his disposal opened our eyes once more to how a night at the movies can make us feel.
THE TOP TEN (er ELEVEN)
10. BRIGHT STAR/AN EDUCATION
The shorthand for this film was a true-life version “This is Spinal Tap” but it’s really as much a story of dreams, tenacity, denial, friendship, and family. Some of the best documentaries expose a world at once both foreign and familiar. That “Anvil!” resonated so much with me and so many others who couldn’t care a lick about their music speaks volumes.
There may be no genre today more run down and sullied with lazy filmmaking and by-the-numbers scripts than the poor romantic comedy. The beauty of “(500) Days of Summer” wasn’t in its jumbled time narrative but in Webb and the screenwriters’ deft balance of humor and truth not to mention an authentic portrayal of self-denial by the great Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
7. DISTRICT 9
For some obvious reasons and some less so when I think of “District 9” I keep thinking back to exhilarating rush I got the first time I saw “Robocop.” One hesitates to anoint greatness after just one film but Neill Blomkamp’s debut shows off such sophistication and showmanship behind the camera not to mention a true sci-fi geek’s spirit I won’t hesitate in saying that Blomkamp is clearly the filmmaker find of the year. Wherever he goes next I and a legion of others will surely follow.
6. STAR TREK
Meanwhile the opening sequence of this film remains my favorite of the year, hurtling you into the 23rd century and building to an undeniable emotional crescendo. It’s the film I’ve seen the most on this list and surely the one I’ll keep returning to for two hours of comfort food. It’s a romp. Smart, fun, a slick and sleek piece of pop-art.
Bold and audacious. Funny and mesmerizing. Standard issue adjectives associated with the great Tarantino but let’s not take them for granted nonetheless. The introduction of Col. Landa and the bar sequence are nothing less than cinematic perfection.
How do you find an equal coutnerpoint to one of the best child performances in ages? If you’re Jonze you elicit some of the most heartbreaking voice performances I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what made him think of James Gandolfini but I can’t imagine another tough guy moving me to the brink of tears with a howl now.
Clooney continues to prove he’s got the acting chops to rival that seemingly effortless movie star swagger. He and his two equally dynamic leading ladies, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, make this film eminently watchable and Reitman’s reliably deft touch as a filmmaker pushes all the right buttons leaving you with your head in the clouds at the end.
The precision in the Coens visual and aural treatment is just unparalleled. When I think of “A Serious Man” I think of throat clearing and ear hair and droopy wrinkled skin and I love it all. And I’m still obsessed with Sy Abelman. His name. His look. His voice. Everything.
“Avatar” is why we go to the movies. Or to make it more personal, “Avatar” is why I fell in love with the movies. It inspires awe and emotion by equal measure and that’s a mean feat when the former has the most sophisticated effects ever created behind it. Anchored by soulful performances (Worthington and Saldana impress more with each viewing) that somehow transcend the spectacle, “Avatar” takes its rightful place alongside the great wondrous epics that stand for what the medium can be at its best. I’ve seen “Avatar” three times and it makes me feel like a kid again every time. I look forward to taking the trip again.